From patrolling the battlefield to controlling the footy field
Josh McFarlane is just one of almost 150 current and former serving veterans who have benefited from Battlefields to FootyFields (B2F) in 2022. Below we share Josh and his mates’ highlights from the year, and some of the reasons we’re so passionate about our partnership with this organisation that values the wellbeing of our Aussie veterans.
“As a member that’s in Defence, it’s hard to get into local sport. But the Battlefields to FootyFields program allowed me to ease the stress a lot and connect with the club.”
For five members of Battlefields to FootyFields in 2022, the program provided an exciting pathway as they joined NRL Elite Referee Squad camp for a week of training with NRL and NSWRL refs.
Following the camp three members were given the honour or officiating the ANZAC Day curtain raiser between Australian Defence Force and the Turkish team. The B2F refs were Josh and his mates Ben Sappala and Nic Willer.
“This program also allowed us to represent not only our country on Anzac Day but our region. To able to have training sessions with the NSW ref squad and the NRL elite squad was an unreal experience and to cap it off with doing the Anzac Day clash was awesome” McFarlane continued
Current serving member Nic Waller said the ANZAC Day Curtain Raiser was one of the highlights of the program.
“I was fortunate enough to be involved with the program for ANZAC Day this year. The program has given me so many terrific opportunities in the last 12 months I’ve been involved in it that I thought I would never get to experience. It’s a great way to help a person’s mental and physical health as well as giving you the opportunity to exercise and meet new people along the way.” Nic Willer, Current Serving Veteran and Battlefield to FootyField Referee
The camp also involved participants completing personal development programs utilising a partnership with GoBeyond from the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation.
It’s had a huge impact on myself mentally and socially, knowing that I’m not the only referee in Defence and being able to meet people that aren’t just on my base or in my service. It allows me to network and know that if I’m posting somewhere, there’s more than likely going to be someone that I already know, that has similar interests, in that location.
April is a traditionally busy time for Invictus Australia, the NRL and B2F as many Anzac Day matches are held, with our military personnel taking center stage and many clubs raising funds for Invictus Australia and the Veteran community. Read about all the NRL Anzac activities here.
2022 Highlights from the B2F PROGRAM
B2F hosted a ‘Welcome to Singleton’ family day in January, that involved a range of sport & footy-inspired activities for kids of all ages. With giveaways on offer and a festival atmosphere, the event was a great success.
The family day also coincided with the announcement that the Singleton Greyhounds Junior Rugby League Club signed as the first B2F community club.
Singleton have shown an ongoing commitment to creating pathways and a positive experience for the Defence community, hosting a training day to promote the new relationship and train referees from the School of Infantry. The referees were instantly able to test their newfound skills at the singleton juniors home games the very next day.
Winter and footy season is always a busy period for the program with a range of activities happening in conjunction with regular season activities:
- The Invictus Australia and B2F teams delivered a Come & Try day in Nowra with the St George Illawarra Dragons. This event provided the opportunity to put participants through the league safe course, while also practicing their ball skills with the Dragons or learning the ins and outs of wheelchair NRL.
- Additional referees were trained and deployed for high profile matches including the Wheelchair State of Origin, Rabbitohs Vs Cowboys curtain raiser, Navy Vs Fire and Rescue NSW matches.
- Up in Townsville, the Inaugural Coral-Balmoral Shield 1 RAR v 3 RAR took place, with B2F implementing additional Ref training with 36 participants put through their Foundation 1 course and the NRL League Safe Course.
- In Tindal, B2F helped facilitate the annual Jason Ruhan Shield Match. Jason sadly died from cancer, and this game is held every year by the dedicated community.
Wrapping up the year
B2F had representation at both the Murri Carnival QLD and Koori Knockout NSW. These two carnivals are an important part of the footy year, as First Nations players represent their respective regions in a spectacular week of Rugby League.
To round out the year, B2F had a strong representation at the Affiliates Cup. The Australian Defence Force Rugby League, Australian Police Rugby League, Combined Services Rugby League and Australian Universities Rugby League played a gruelling week of footy with Universities taking home the trophy.
It’s been an inspiring year for our teams at Invictus Australia and B2F as we’re made meaningful impact in local communities, which we look forward to growing in 2023.
As Partnerships Manager and former participant Troy Burgess sums it up – “Our partnership is important for numerous reasons. Firstly we both have the same end goal, to help veterans live fuller healthier lives. Secondly we use sport to help achieve this goal, as being active and involved within sporting communities has been scientifically proven to help physical and mental health. Having connections is important and we help try to bridge the gap. In the future we would love to see more Veterans connected to their communities and involved in Rugby League and using the benefits of sports to live happier healthier lives.”
“The Battlefields to FootyFields program helped me return to civilian life after serving in the Australian Defence Force.” B2F participant
What is Battlefields to footyfields?
Established following the Invictus Games Sydney 2018, Invictus Australia worked with the NRL to develop the ‘Battlefields to FootyFields’ program to encourage and support veterans to join rugby league refereeing and sports trainer ranks.
Battlefields to FootyFields provides nationally recognised training for current and ex-serving ADF members and their immediate family. The program provides great opportunities to hone newfound skills, make long lasting connections and participate in something that gives a renewed sense of belonging.
If you’re a member of the Veteran and Defence community and think a veteran-focused sport pathway is for you, contact Battlefields to FootyFields. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to the team at Invictus Australia for all sporting opportunities